It is really hard to fathom that this reality is at last upon us. It’s shocking that both these nominations are being announced on the same day and probably roughly at the same time, give or take. We’ll have them as soon as they drop, but it’s going to be a shock followed by a series of aftershocks to have them cascade on the same day, especially considering that Oscar ballots will be crisscrossing Hollywood via submit clicks and courier treks on the very same day, January 7. Like tomorrow.
These things don’t usually rain down right on top of each other. Ideally, they are spaced and stacked so that one informs the other and gradually build perception and consensus, with time to catch our breath. But tomorrow, they could splatter every which way, and no one knows how the pieces will land. I have a little bit of an organization disorder. I need my awards pieces all lined up neatly and predictably. But this is a mess. And if it ain’t, it’ll do ’til the mess gets here.
I will first run through a quickie preview of each and then give my predictions, more or less.
The Directors Guild has 16,000 members, according to Wikipedia. In general, we look at DGA as the best Best Picture predictor in terms of nominations. Whoever ends up winning the DGA award doesn’t necessarily win the Oscar for Best Picture (especially recently), but having that powerful guild nomination is important. For this, we’re still looking at Ye Olde Driving Miss Daisy stat when it comes to the scarcity of films that have won Best Picture without a DGA nomination. It probably will happen again at some point, but it hasn’t since 1989.
Either way, I expect that the DGA five might bring at least one surprise, but for the most part, we’re looking at:
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — One of the most influential directors in American film, Tarantino has yet to win Best Director. He’s an easy call to get in for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — a wildly entertaining, melancholic look at the past. Tarantino gives his audience the benefit of the doubt and has made a movie about a history that savvy audiences are expected not only to know about, but for many voters to have lived though. He’s been previously nominated twice for the DGA for Pulp Fiction and for Inglourious Basterds.
Sam Mendes, 1917 — Precisely twenty years after his last win with American Beauty, the director creates another immersive tale of personal turmoil, only this time the stakes are exponentially higher. 1917 sweeps us along the internal arc of a soldier who must deliver an essential message that could save thousands of lives. It is a story about the worlds’ first global conflict that changed everything. Rather than tell the story of that war, Mendes zooms in on the young men who fought it, focusing tightly on the face of his protagonist, the marvelous George McKay. Mendes has been nominated once and won once at the DGA for American Beauty.
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman — With this, his latest film about the mob, Scorsese once again decides to lead where others will inevitably follow, chasing a challenge of fast-evolving technology to see if he can tell stories that span an entire lifetime, using the same actors across five decades. Working from a masterful script by Steve Zaillian, Scorsese unwinds the story of a hitman’s life with an extended episodic look back at what he was asked to do, arriving at a destination when he tallies up what it cost him in the end. The awards race tends to flatten our experience of films as art so that we often tend to look at them in terms of winners or losers. And that’s a shame for a movie like this because it asks much more from its viewer, not just for the patience of sitting still through the running time, but also for the concentration required to watch Scorsese work as a director with free reign to do exactly what he wanted to do. Scorsese has been nominated by the DGA for eight of his films, including such cinematic milestones as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. Scorsese finally won his first DGA for The Departed.
Bong Joon Ho, Parasite — The Korean film that has taken the town by storm and is simply one of the best-written, acted, and directed films of the year. No one really knows how many Oscars nominations it will receive or how many it can win, but it is the one movie everyone has been talking about ever since its triumph at Cannes. Why? Because it says so much and cuts so deep. It’s funny and tragic all at once. It exposes the hypocrisy in our social and cultural structure: the lies we tell ourselves about the lives we live. Tomorrow will be the first big consensus test for this film, which thus far earned a SAG ensemble nomination from 2,000 voters. With these two all-important guilds, it will need a lot more eyes than that to see beyond the “one-inch high barrier of subtitles” for Bong to make it in, but that challenge seems likely to be met.
The fifth DGA slot seems increasingly destined for Todd Phillips’ Joker, the billion dollar baby that also seems to drilled into the right now like a spinal tap. It appears to have crystallized how lost and helpless so many people feel, how rage is cultivated into violence, how disconnected so many people in need are from our government’s overburdened safety nets. As brutal as it is, as hard to watch as it may be, it does seem to be a reflection of what we might see if we turned a magnifying mirror on ourselves right now. It seems an easy call to predict Phillips, since Joker keeps hitting all of the necessary markers.
Whom else might crack the top five? Can James Mangold possibly make it in for Ford v Ferrari? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Easily one of the best-directed films of the year, it’s an invigorating crowdpleaser. Another possibility is Greta Gerwig for Little Women if there are enough voters of both genders who want to ensure a woman breaks through. Also, people seem to really love the movie and it’s going to make a lot of money.
Taika Waititi could get in for Jojo Rabbit, depending on how popular such a provocative film turns out to be. Right now we just don’t know, but in a few hours we’ll find out.
Last but not least, Noah Baumbach has a shot for the very popular Marriage Story. Depending on how many people — by the thousands — truly like these other movies, that’s what will determine whether or not they’ll find their way into the top ten.
The Producers Guild doesn’t have as many members as the DGA (SAG-AFTRA is still the largest guild, with 150,000 voters). But the PGA ballot has a generous ten nomination slots, so it shouldn’t be that hard to guess what they’ll embrace. We expect that to go as follows:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Ford v Ferrari
Knives Out or Bombshell
The Two Popes
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Dolemite Is My Name
We’ll find out tomorrow. And then we’re half-way home.